A couple of nights ago John and I watched a short, biblically-based film entitled "Zarephath." The title intrigued me because the story from 1 Kings 17 has always blessed me deeply and even now it causes me to remember back to my divorce over 20 years ago, when I felt that I had lost absolutely everything; but God used this chapter in 1 Kings to build my faith and my trust in His provision. This little film stayed mostly true to the text, recounting the story of a widow who was gathering sticks to make a fire for cooking the last handful of flower and few drops of oil she had. There had been no rain in the land, so there was no place to find food or water. Then the prophet Elijah showed up at her door after the LORD directed him to "go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there as I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food."
1 Kings 17:10-16:
So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”
“As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”
Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”
She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.
There are lots and lots of people wondering how we are going to survive the days of tribulation that we know are just ahead of us. We already see the signs of crop shortages, severe lack of grain and eggs, and weather disasters across the globe. What if prices go so high we cannot feed our families? What if jobs are lost and pension plans cut off? There is so much uncertainty and fear in people's hearts as 2023 commences. But now I am reminded of the widow. Don't you find it interesting that the LORD would send his beloved prophet Elijah to someone who is starving and tell him to ask her for water and bread? Our God has such mysterious ways of working and testing the faith of his people, that we might learn to trust Him!
The widow lets Elijah know of her lack and her inability to give him any food; but he is on a mission. He tells her to FIRST make HIM a loaf of bread and THEN something for her and her son. This man was a stranger to the widow of Zarephath - and her own son was hungry! Her faith was being severely tested; but she does not fail the test. She responds with pinpoint obedience. She does not tell him she will see that she and her son get fed first. Wouldn't that be most people's normal response? Yet this woman "went away and did as Elijah had told her." Then, by God's miraculous, generous Hand, she was given flour and oil that never ran out!
Elva Minette Martin writes of this story, "God spoke through Elijah, promising that there would be enough food for as long as he withheld the rain. She gave the only handful she had to God, and he blessed her faithfully, according to His promise. He supplied meal and oil every day for her and her family and Elijah through all the days of the drought, which continued more than two years. When God's word guarantees all needs will be provided, He means all!"
But that wasn't the end of this widow's test. Sometimes, just when we think we have perfected our faith, God sends an even harder test and we find ourselves once more in the Refiner's Fire.
1 Kings 17:17-23:
Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”
“Give me your son,” Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. Then he cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”
The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!”
I wanted to share this whole story in Chapter 17 because it rings true for so many even in our time. There are an unusual number of people - even very young people - passing away in this last year. I myself am very close to several friends who lost young sons last year and who are still awash in the waves of grief. It is not in "right order" for a parent to bury a child. My first baby, a little girl, lived two weeks and died, so I too have experienced this grief. But I want to pass on the words of Elva Minette Martin (from her little book All I Have Needed), feeling certain it will minister to some who read them. She writes, "First she [the widow] trusted all she had left on earth to God. She gave the body of her only son into Elijah's arms. Then she allowed Elijah to take her son away from her, out of her sight. She did not try to follow; she trusted her burden to the man of God. So Elijah took the restored child back down to the waiting mother and exclaimed, 'Look, your son is alive!' What will it be like when Jesus takes us to heaven and says 'See, here is your loved one, perfect and whole, and like Me!' Then we will know with surety, without doubt, and forever that the Word of God is true; that we can trust God's word now, even in death."
Miracles happened in that small, poverty-stricken home in a town called Zarephath around the year 910 B.C. God had promised His prophet that He would feed him; first with ravens who literally brought him food to eat, and then at the hand of a poor widow in the middle of a famine. Is He still the same God? Are His promises to provide for His people still true? I believe so. I believe that He still deeply loves widows, the poor and the children, still works wondrously profound miracles, and still tests our faith in order to bring us His greatest blessings.
I believe that we can still know with surety, without doubt, and forever that the Word of God is true!
Kelly Ferrari Mills